I didn't read up on this band before I listened to the album - but I knew it was going to be a kind of post-rock instrumental album released through Ninja Tune subsidiary Counter Records. If that conjures some kind of aural image in your mind's-ear, you can be pretty sure that's what Cougar sound like. You could put them on the same lineup as Tortoise without upsetting anyone, and the production on the record is lightly peppered with some of those super-slick Ninja Tune flicks and flares. What's weird about this record is that it exchanges post-rock's jazz leanings for more of a world music or folk texture, and this doesn't always hit the spot. The other thing is that it has many tasty ingredients such as beefy sound, great playing, dynamics and variation - but they combine into a dinner that is served in a somewhat over-polite manner. Even the parts where the guitars crank up and it goes all metal just seem a bit too reserved, a bit too clean. The drumming is outstanding throughout, while final track Absaroka is the understated shining gem of the whole collection - since it taps into an American folk sound that is more typically played by Bill Frisell.
This track stands up easily alongside fellow Ninjas Jaga Jazzist, but much of the remaining album suffers from over-bake. Ninja are good at coaxing terrific second albums out of their artists, so Cougar could be a band to keep an eye on.